The holidays are quickly approaching, but they won’t be merry and bright for all. Why not? Because fraud attempts skyrocket by 30 percent during the peak holiday season, according to data from ACI Worldwide.
And while identity theft can strike anyone, people 65 and older are especially vulnerable. U.S. Senator Susan Collins has called elder financial fraud a “growing epidemic,” while the U.S. Federal Trade Commision (FTC) Chairwoman Edith Ramirez has said, “Many seniors spend lifetimes building credit and saving money for their golden years, but the identity thieves steal their hard-earned savings or ruin their reputations.”
You don't have to wait to become a statistic, however. Instead, follow these nine tips to safeguard your digital identity and protect yourself from cybercriminals.
1. Avoid attachments and links.
Email links and attachments are dangerous territories — even if they appear to come from a trustworthy source. Never open an unknown email attachment, as it may put your computer and the information it contains at risk. If a link is provided, refrain from clicking it. Instead, type the company’s official URL directly into your browser.
2. Change your passwords regularly.
Says CNBC: “Passwords are the first line of defense in protecting access to our finances, credit information and identities. But we, as a collective nation, do a pretty lousy job of guarding that line.”
Techniques for protecting your passwords include:
Selecting one that’s at least 12 characters long and incorporates a mix of letters, numbers of symbols.
Using multi-factor authentication.
Using biometrics whenever possible (see below).
Using different passwords for different accounts.
Using a password manager.
Being wary of phishing.
Updating your software.
Perhaps the most foolproof way of all to avoid other people getting hold of your password: Don't share it with others.
3. Embrace biometric authentication features.
Biometric technology, such as fingerprints and facial recognition, uses individual physiological or behavioral traits for recognition and authentication. Proposes M2SYS, “With the flourishing of internet-based businesses and the increased requirement for accurate verification when accessing accounts, biometric technology turns out to be the best and most suitable solution for secure mobile transaction identification.”
“With the flourishing of internet-based businesses and the increased requirement for accurate verification when accessing accounts, biometric technology turns out to be the best and most suitable solution for secure mobile transaction identification.”
4. Take advantage of direct deposit.
Direct deposit doesn’t just make life easier; it also makes it safer. To prevent them from being intercepted by the wrong hands, arrange to have paychecks, Social Security and any other benefit checks deposited directly into your account via direct deposit.
5. Shop only at reputable websites.
Many websites ask for sensitive information, but not all of them are secure. The ability to identify safe and unsafe connections is an invaluable safety measure. “HTTPS” in a URL denotes a secure connection.
Additionally, secure sites display clickable security items — usually green padlock or address bar — that show they are safe. Insecure websites, meanwhile, will be indicated by a warning sign, “like a red padlock, a padlock that is not closed, a line going through the website’s address, or a triangle on top of the padlock emblem,” according to SSL.com.
6. Don’t hesitate to hang up.
While the digital revolution has spurred an increase in online crime, phone fraud is still common. If you get a call from someone requesting your financial or personal information, don’t provide it. Hang up instead. If the caller claims to be a representative of your credit card company or bank, call them directly using the contact information you have for them.
7. Regularly review your account statements.
While checking your bank and credit card statements can be a chore, there are many reasons to do so. Some are merely logistical — noticing an interest rate change or unexpected bank fee, for example — but others are precautionary.
Explains GoBankingRates.com: “Identity thieves and fraudsters will sometimes make a small debit to your account to test if it is a legitimate account. You might not notice a charge of a few dollars while checking your account balance on your app, but your statement gives you enough information to call the bank and question the charge.”
The good news: Automated alerts make it easier than ever to keep track of when, where and how their cards are being used.
8. Avoid sharing personal information online.
Social networking sites like Facebook and Classmates.com may help you connect with old friends and family members, but they can also expose your sensitive data to online predators. To minimize your chances of being victimized, avoid including personal information, such as your place of birth, date of birth and family members' names, on social media sites.
9. Invest in a shredder.
While a shredder may not exactly seem high-tech, it serves a vital purpose: destroying documents that contain your personal information before criminals can get their hands on them. Shredding and recycling also keep paper out of landfills.
Making an effort to understand best practices for identity theft protection — and to apply them using these nine tips — can help you take a stand against identity fraud toward a safer and happier new year.